EF based Microflite steps up VIC firefighting capability

Victoria is prepared for the highest fire-risk period of summer, with the state’s Night Aviation Program taking off at Essendon Fields Airport.

The Hon. Jaclyn Symes, Attorney General and Minister for Emergency Services, as well as Emergency Management Deputy Commissioner Chris Stephenson visited Essendon Fields Airport, where three helicopters engaged for night aviation operations are based. The craft are part of the state’s 50-strong firefighting fleet.

The program includes two night firebombing helicopters, including the Coulson Aviation CH47 Chinook which has already been supporting operations during the day.

An aerial intelligence gathering Firebird 308 helicopter operated by Microflite is also supporting night operations, aided by new technology including an infra-red high-definition video camera. These enhancements will help operational decision-making and can be streamed to control centers to better inform operations.

Microflite CEO Jonathan Booth said his family-owned Victorian company was proud of its role in helping assist the State Government’s firefighting capability and acknowledged the skill and expertise of the pilots and crew who manage the aircraft.

“Victoria is leading the way here. Both Victoria and NSW have a Night Aviation Program, but many countries around the world still do not have night aviation capabilities. Firebird 308 is an imperative part of this process, assisting in early fire tracking, mapping, and identifying properties with dams, creeks or swimming pools that can be used for firefighting purposes.”

Microflite established a base at Essendon Fields in 2022 at Hangar 11. The 495 sqm facility has allowed the company to grow its operations beyond its existing MRO base at Moorabbin Airport.

Inside the working hangar guests were invited to enjoy coffee and a light lunch, against a backdrop of the Microflite Firebird 308 and Kestrel’s Helitack 346.

The Microflite hangar at Essendon Fields will soon also house a new fixed wing aircraft (PC12) and the company sees significant opportunities over the next few years to use their Essendon Fields Airport base to strengthen their operation offering.

“Microflite’s new aircraft add important capability to the state’s firefighting arsenal.  We’re pleased to be play our part in supporting emergency operations out of Essendon Fields Airport, and will continue to work with government and operators to make their missions as simple and effective as possible,” said Essendon Fields CEO Brendan Pihan.

Emergency Management Deputy Commissioner Chris Stephenson notes that we’ve had had a quiet bushfire season in relative terms with 450 dispatches this season to date at over 200 fires.

“What you can expect is in February we’ll likely see up to that number of fires again… We need to be prepared. We need communities to be prepared for the rest of summer. There’s still a risk out there, particularly in the western part of the state. It’s not just up to the aircraft though, it’s up to the individual to be prepared and download that VIC emergency app and be ready to respond should you need to in your community,” said Mr Stephenson.

“As grasses dry out, the night aviation fleet provides a vital extra element in our efforts to protect communities across the state. This is the period where we know risk can be higher, and we’re remaining vigilant night and day,” concluded Minister for Emergency Services, Jaclyn Symes.

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